A six year old girl disappears from a train and no one seems to have seen where she has gone. Her mother, who was left behind in an earlier station, is inconsolable. Police think that the girl’s father, who has been abusing the mother, may be behind this disappearance. As the police, headed by Inspector Alex Recht, fail to locate the father, their suspicion grows. Only Fredrika Bergmann, a civilian who has joined the force, and whose capabilities Alex is not sure of, think otherwise. Only when the child is found dead, with ‘Unwanted’ written on her forehead, do the police realize that there is a cold blooded killer on the prowl. And then another child disappears.
In movies you have this phenomenon of fight sequences becoming more innovative and more daring. What was thought of as very daring and innovative a few years back now looks dull. In crime novels, novelists want to make the crime more and more gruesome. I observe this in many American crime novels as well as in the Scandinavian ones. The authors seem to realize that nothing can be more gruesome than a crime involving a child. So in many of the novels you find child abuse and incest being a common thread. The widely popular ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ belongs to this category. Kristina Ohlsson uses the same technique to get our attention though what happens doesn’t seem too logical. That is offset when the criminal is a psychotic person. Using such characters, the author’s don’t need to worry too much about logic and at the same time can make the crime as gruesome as possible. As can be expected in such novels, child abuse is not taken up to get our attention to this serious issue. Rather it is taken up more like how chilli sauce is added to provide the required ‘tang’ to a dish.
As with the standard technique of the current day crime novels, Kristina gives each of the character a love interest (expect for Inspect Recht) but unlike the novels of Henin Mankell, where you want him to get on with the story, Kristina clearly knows when to keep this in the background. So these character developments happen till the novel picks up speed and then Kristina sees to it that this character development doesn’t impact the flow of the novel.
The whole novel has a ‘written for television’ feel in it. The chapters are short and each chapter deals with a different person. You can clearly see how a 20 minute serial can show atleast 3 or 4 different sequences involving various characters. Hence it moves fast. There is no real sense of place in the novel. While the novel takes place is Sweden, you do not have the city coming to life in front of your eyes as in the novel of Sjowall and Wahloo. The denouement is not the important part of this novel since the reader is given enough background material about the criminal to come to the right conclusion much before the police do.
In short, ‘Unwanted’ is an easy and a fast train read. It is clearly designed as a page turner and it succeeds in being one.